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Overseas recruitment: Home thoughts from abroad

Written by: David Payne
Published on: 12 Apr 2018

Overseas recruitment: Home thoughts from abroad.

Top career tips from three UK-trained dentists who moved away.


Denise Denise Giles graduated from the University of Wales in 1978 and moved to Swaziland three years later after training in maxillofacial surgery. She lived there for 11 years, working first in a government hospital, then a mission clinic, and finally setting up her own practice which she sold in 1992 to move to Hong Kong.

What is your current job?

I am an associate in general practice at a private practice in central Hong Kong, focusing on paediatrics.

How did you get it?

It was word of mouth. A friend offered me a job in his practice, where I also work with another British graduate.

Why did you choose Hong Kong?

In 1992 I spent a month lecturing at the Faculty of Dentistry at Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and came through Hong Kong en route back to Africa. I wasn't looking for a job but was offered a post at one of the hospitals out of the blue. I’d sold and up moved in 16 weeks. Hong Kong is a wonderful city. I never want to leave it.

What is dentistry like in Hong Kong?

There is an excellent school dental service that caters for 5 to 11 year olds. Apart from that dentistry is private (and expensive). Our patients are appreciative of our work and value preventative care. One of the best aspects of dentistry here is that we have many well qualified specialists in all disciplines.

Patients value the option to be referred to an endodontist or oral surgeon for an urgent consultation or treatment which can sometimes be carried out the same day especially if the patient is in pain. Many of the specialists are within walking distance of my practice. There are lots of postgraduate courses available. 

What do you like about living there?

Hong Kong is so much more than high rises and shopping. It is a diverse, efficient and very safe community with many learned and cultural societies, the opportunity to sing with excellent choirs, sporting opportunities, great hiking, all within easy reach. It’s also a very “can-do” place which provides people with a lot of opportunities. There is great reasonably priced public transport (I haven't owned a car for 25 years) I live on Lantau island in a flat overlooking the South China Sea. In addition to my main practice I also work one day a week at a practice near my home and run risk management workshops for Dental Protection.

Africa, by comparison, was wonderful but completely different. It took me back to first principles. One day I saw 99 patients before lunch. There were no dental specialists in the country.

What was the biggest challenge about moving abroad for work?

When I first moved overseas there was no internet and phone calls were very expensive so that was challenging. That wouldn't be a problem now.

How has your family adapted?

My daughters moved to Hong Kong from Africa when they were 8 and 4. Moving countries and making new friends was a challenge for them. I chose an international school. I think there were 32 nationalities when they joined, and I made sure that we lived in a multicultural area.

What is your advice to colleagues thinking of developing their career overseas?

Get a postgraduate qualification such as MJDF or MFDS as soon as you can whilst studying is still ingrained. Consider doing an MSc or similar overseas. Research the registration criteria carefully as many countries including Hong Kong now have qualifying exams for overseas graduates. Keep up your GDC registration. This is a thorny issue now as the annual fee is ridiculously high but you never know how things will pan out overseas and it's easier to keep your registration than to get it back once it has lapsed.

Here’s some practical financial  advice. Keep up voluntary National Insurance Contributions. Whilst we don't know what the future will hold for pensions in the UK, financial experts advise that this is money well spent. Get on the buy-to-let property ladder if at all possible and get the rent paying your mortgage whilst you are overseas. Don't look for a flat or house that you might want to live in yourself. Get something in a good rentable area that will be easy to sell in future. Pay a letting agent to manage it.

How are UK dentists perceived where you work?

UK dentists are generally very well regarded.  I am in awe of NHS dentists that manage to keep up the quality that they do. Seeing 8 to 12 patients a day is quite a different kettle of fish to treating NHS patients. My examination appointments are 30 minutes, my hygienists’  are 45 to 60 minutes. I'm not sure how this scheduling compares to UK private dentistry. We certainly appreciate the time we are able to spend with our patients.


MarkMark Diacono “ran away” from Malta to Leeds aged 18 in 1983, where he trained as a nurse and worked in intensive care for a year. He qualified as a dentist in 1991 and returned to Malta in 1997. For the next eight years he flew back regularly to do locum consultant shifts. He settled in Malta permanently with a full-time post in 2005.

What’s your current job?   

I work as a specialist in oral surgery and set up the Dental Implantology Unit at St James Hospital, an 80-bed private facility in Sliema, a large town on the north-east coast. My main area of interest is advanced implant surgery but receive plenty of referrals for routine oral surgery work. 

How did you get it?  

My training post after qualifying was in the oral and maxillofacial clinic at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, working alongside David Hutchinson and Richard Loukota. It was hard work but great teamwork and they rewarded me with implant surgery, which nobody wanted to do then. I got a scholarship to the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow. They also supported to study in Gothenburg, Sweden, where I met my wife Susanna.

Why did you choose Malta?

We were planning an overseas travel adventure when we first moved back and our next stop was going to be the Middle East. At first we tried to get work in Canada, but the jobs we were offered were a five-hour flight apart.  Then we discovered we were to have a surprise addition to the family. Our son is now 19 and studying chemistry. Our daughter is 17.
We chose Malta also because of its close links to the UK. Also my family is here, and the professional working language is English, which means Susanna can work here too.

What is dentistry like in Malta?

There is a government service offered in Malta’s main hospital offering a wide variety of services but the vast majority of dental treatment is performed in private practice. Like everywhere else, standards vary but it is generally extremely good. Technical back up is good and there is the need and demand for advanced work. Within our unit, we are fully computerised, practice digital dentistry including digital smile design, CEREC, have a CBCT scanner, a microscope, offer IV sedation and general anaesthesia (the luxury of working within a large private hospital). All our support staff are fully trained.

What do you like about living in Malta?

I’m sitting outside looking at the sea right now. It’s 23 degrees Celsius. It’s a Mediterranean life. I’ve taken up sailing. The working hours are good. Salaries are higher in the UK but I wouldn’t have the same quality of life. The only downside is the lack of open spaces, trees, forests and wildlife. I still have my heart stuck on the Yorkshire Dales and loved my time in Britain, which is why I’m still on the GDC register and a member of the BDA, which is useful for CPD. I can’t let it go.

Malta doesn’t have a shortage of dentists but there is work available. We’re riding an economic high at the moment. You wouldn’t choose Malta for a postgraduate degree. You have to advance your career yourself and be self-guided so I attend conferences abroad.

What was the biggest challenge about moving abroad for work?

The main challenge is overcoming the initial fear of the unknown. Is it going to work? Am I making a mistake leaving the comfort of home? 

Once you make up your mind, things start to fall in place quite easily.

How has your family adapted?

A few years ago we discussed starting another adventure, or perhaps should I say carrying on with the original plan. Australia, New Zealand, maybe Sweden? Susanna and I were overruled by the kids.

What is your advice to colleagues thinking of working abroad?

Moving away, even for a few years, can open up a world of opportunities in both your career as well as quality of life.  The world is so small. You can always turn back.

We gave ourselves a five-year cut off so we didn’t buy any property at first. It’s important not to tie yourself up in long contracts. Sign up with reputable agencies and companies so you know you have some good back up.

How are UK dentists perceived where you work?  

UK dentistry is very well received. In our unit all but one of the seven dental surgeons have UK qualifications, both undergraduate and postgraduate.


MArkMark Lowey grew up in the north-east of England and graduated from Guy’s Hospital in 1981.

He settled permanently in Stavanger in 2014 but for 14 years he divided his time between Norway and the UK, where he owned practices in Guildford, Surrey, and Orpington, Kent. 

What’s your current job? 

I’m an orthodontic specialist practitioner running a practice in Stavanger, Norway’s third largest city.

How did you get it?

Norway is quite a nationalistic country so coming from the UK and starting a practice here was hard. I’d won prizes and have been published internationally. A colleague who is a consultant in oral surgery spoke up for me to get me on the list.


Why did you choose Norway?

I came to Stavanger on a rugby trip and met my future wife. We travelled back and forth for a while, then once I was on the list, I started to work here one week in six. My wife is Norwegian and when we first moved here our daughter (who is now 18) was six months old.

We needed to choose when it was time for full time school for her. It was a no brainer. Taxes are high but the services – healthcare, education, transport etc – are very good.  The father of my first patient in Norway said “In my experience Englishmen only come to Norway for love or money." I told him it wasn’t for the money. I don’t feel wealthier in Norway than I did in the UK but the quality of life is better. Norway regularly pops up in the top three countries in the world to live.

What is dentistry like there?

State dentistry is similar to the UK’s community dental service and is provided free until you reach 20. Recent graduates tend to work there until they develop their skills.

Private orthodontic and dental  practice is like in the UK, offering some state help for patients, rationed and needs driven. Specialists in endodontics and periodontics generally work in bigger clinics and corporates are spreading.

Norwegians are like the Americans. They think that British people have Austin Powers teeth.

What do you like about living in Norway?

I love the quality of life. Norway is a very big oil-rich country of 5million people. Norwegians like an outdoor lifestyle - skiing, sailing, running marathons, walking in the mountains.

There’s a Norwegian term called “Dugnad”, which is a philosophy of life whereby everybody looks out for each other. At the private kindergarten which my daughter attended, for example, parents give up their weekend at the end of the year to stack away chairs and clean the place.

Also, everything functions - transport roads, airports. On St Patrick’s Day this year it was -20 but the airport and roads were fine and the shops had plenty of bread. In the UK 400 flights were cancelled.

The working day is 8:00-16:00 to take maximum advantage of the long summer evenings and holidays are sacred (so no one wants an orthodontic appointment during the holidays). All children must have access to two schools within walking distance, so there is no school run.  Cycle lanes, playgrounds, corner shops all have to be provided on planning applications before houses are built. 

Norwegian laws are sensible (but penalties are severe if you disobey them), politicians are generally capable and not too extreme, and oil revenue has been invested, not squandered, unlike the UK. 

Each year everyone’s salary is published in the local newspaper.

Buying and selling a house is done in a weekend, with the minimum of stress.

What was the biggest challenge about moving abroad for work?

The language. I was taught, French Spanish and Latin. I could speak French well. Norwegian is more Germanic in origin and in Stavanger the dialect is difficult. I still struggle with the language.

How has your family adapted?

When I met my second wife we had three children between us from former marriages. My two oldest were educated in the UK. My UK educated daughters cannot get their heads around how fair and reasonable the school life is here.

In Norway children can go to "barnahagen" nursery school from around a year old until they are 6. Access is easy and privately paid but the cost is reasonable.

Maternity leave is around a year and paternity leave 3 months.

What is your advice to colleagues thinking of developing their career outside the UK?

Don’t do it for the money.